Thoughts on Covers, Websites and Advertising
Yesterday’s post, by Jodi, struck a chord with me. I started to post a reply and somewhere in the fifth paragraph I decided that, just maybe, I ought to flesh out my thoughts in the venue of a real post, instead of hiding it down among the comments.
It’s not something I speak of often, or admit in mixed company, but my college degree is in Advertising (a B.S. for those of you searching for irony). And that puts me in a unusual, though not unique, position to observe that many authors refuse to acknowledge the need for advertising.
“Do you also choose your books by their covers? I prefer to read before judging.” ~Tuck (Fourth Fiction contestant)
This statement embodies a baffling combination of naïveté, intentional twisting of language, and hypocrisy that is frighteningly prevalent among artists in general, and authors in particular.
Let’s start with the loose use of language in this oversimplification. Do you know anyone who judges a book by it’s cover? I have four kids and none of them—including the six-year-old—do this. What they—or should I say, we—are sometimes guilty of is judging whether we will read a book by its cover. That’s a pretty stark difference.
Next up is the naïveté of the statement. I’ve never counted the number of books at the nearest Borders, but if it’s not 50,000 unique titles I’d be surprised. How am I supposed to decide what to load up my to-read pile with if I don’t either select titles at random, or use a few superficial criteria to narrow the choices? Of course there are non-superficial criteria available to me, but if I rely on suggestions from friends and authors I’m familiar with I’m going to have to read an awful lot of sample passages to pick out what’s going to keep me company during my commute.
Now let’s take a brief look at the hypocrisy. We ALL judge “books” by their “covers” EVERYDAY. Whether it be those among us who are already miffed at the success of Dan Brown’s next novel because he sold a bazillion copies of what amounts to a pulp novel, or those of us whose eyes follow the shapely brunette we pass on the street. We HAVE to make these snap judgments in order to live our lives without being inundated by a flood of choices. For example, in anticipation of this post, when I went to the grocery store for milk a few hours ago I counted the number of novels available for me to purchase—at the grocery store I had a choice of 209 different novels by 122 different authors.
So why do so many of us—and by us I mean both writers and the larger classification artists—still cling to the notion that people shouldn’t judge our books by their covers?
I think it’s the distasteful notion that after all the blood and sweat that went into our creation—whether it be a short story, a painting, a screenplay, a sculpture or a novel—we still need to convince people that it’s worth more than a casual look. It feels a bit like making a new mother convince people that her new baby is cute. We just feel it should be obvious.
But the fact is that advertising is a necessary component—you may think necessary evil is more accurate—not just of writing or publishing, but of modern life. Candidates for president have to advertise. Charities who want to eliminate cancer, or help battered women and children need to advertise. Chewing gum needs to advertise.
Whether we like it or not, writers need to advertise.
And I’m not just talking about book covers. It’s 2009 and you’re just not technologically conscious unless you have your own website—without exaggeration, many writers have a half dozen sites in their stable. But you might be surprised if you were to count how many of those sites are an off-the-shelf template with a title that took the writer ten seconds to come up with.
I’ve read a half dozen posts this year warning authors not to get caught up in the design of their blogs because it gets in the way of actual writing. And I don’t disagree. But while under-designing your website will give you more time to write, it will also assure that the people who wander into your writing are less likely to stick around.
So the next time we’re all on our collective soapbox preaching about injustice, ask yourself why you dress up for a job interview…or a date. Ask yourself why so many of the websites you bookmark look good.
And remember, you spent too many hours to count working on that novel, or collection of short stories, or whatever you’ve written. Do you really want to shoot yourself in the foot over just a few hours spent carefully considering how you will convince people to read it?